A government plan to seize a popular volleyball court for private development in a central Vietnamese village—the only public space in the area—sparked a tense standoff this week between residents and local authorities.
Land grabs have become a common feature in Vietnam, but when local authorities moved to take over a small playing field, residents of Yen Loc village in Ha Tinh province said enough was enough.
They broke into a local government building on Tuesday and occupied it until Wednesday, destroying property and leaving several people injured, residents said.
According to Father Tran Van Loi of the local Catholic Trang Dinh parish, the assault on Yen Loc Commune’s People’s Committee building in Can Loc district took place because local officials had sold off the village’s only public space to developers.
“This issue requires a very urgent solution. Not only the church but the local secular community also have supported these people,” said Tran Van Loi.
“The authorities are creating such a densely populated neighborhood that there isn’t even room for a playground. Only a small volleyball court exists for people to ‘reduce stress’ after a day of hard labor, but even that has been slated for confiscation,” he said.
“These people are fighting for the collective—not just the needs of their own families.”
The incident began when 27-year-old villager Dang Van Cong assaulted two local officials after they approached him and told him to stop building a fence around the village volleyball court, which was on government land, Vietnam’s official Thanh Nien newspaper said.
Another state newspaper, Dan Tri, reported that Dang Van Cong had injured village Vice President Duong Chi Tranh with a club in the skirmish.
Dang Van Cong and his brother were summoned to the People’s Committee office by authorities early on Tuesday. By the afternoon, Dang Van Cong remained in police custody, though his brother had been set free.
Villagers demanded his release, and when officials refused, they stormed the building, destroying furniture and seriously injuring two local Communist Party officials.
Authorities have launched an investigation into the violence, which left the two officials hospitalized and several others lightly wounded.
Protecting the court
A relative of Dang Van Cong named Dang Van Minh said that his brother had used machinery to drain the volleyball court, not to build a fence around it.
“The president and vice president asked him to suspend the work, but he continued to operate the machine,” Dang Van Minh said.
He said that local authorities had no right to summon Dang Van Cong and detain him.
“My two brothers were summoned to the Village People’s Committee. Only one was allowed to return home, and we were given no information about Dan Van Cong,” Dang Van Minh said.
“The village committee and the commune police did wrong, so the people decided to stand up against them.”
When contacted by RFA’s Vietnamese service, village president Nguyen Huy Que, who was injured in the melee, said that it was too dark for him to determine who had beaten him.
“Many people were involved in storming the office, including the village youth, which led to complete chaos,” he said on Wednesday from his hospital bed, recuperating from his injuries.
“Even the Catholics were involved, led by 43-year-old Trang Dinh parish priest Tran Van Loi,” Nguyen Huy Que said.
“I don’t know why the Catholics were involved, but it seems that recently they have been trying to expand their power base and now have the attitude that they can challenge the government,” he said.
“They used the popular sentiment to move against us.”
He said that local authorities dared not use force against the villagers during the attack, as other officials around the country had been sacked for doing so, and instead tried to calm them by shouting propaganda.
“No one listened to us. We could not convince them that the use of force would not resolve the problem.”
Nguyen Huy Que said the incident was triggered by “some guy digging illegally and disobeying local officials” who had asked him to stop.
“The investigating agency issued a warrant for his arrest. We took him into custody in the morning and by the afternoon the whole village had become involved,” he said.
“You can’t just dig without asking permission. The land is under state management.”
All land in communist Vietnam belongs to the state, with people having only the right to use it, and their land can be revoked under government orders with appropriate compensation.
Over 70 percent of complaints to the government are about land, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said in May.
In January, a former soldier used homemade explosives to defend his farmland from authorities looking to claim it for resale, prompting the prime minister to pledge land reform.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.